Despite most of the COVID-19 infections and deaths in the United States, more and more districts in California are starting to reopen businesses, schools, and other public facilities such as theme parks and museums.
On Tuesday, seven more districts were lowered from the most restrictive “purple level” to the “red level” in the state’s “blueprint for a safer economy”. The “red level” carries a “significant” risk with 4 to 7 new cases per 100,000 people and a test positivity rate of 5 to 8 percent, both of which indicate high levels of community transmission of the virus. Counties that have stepped on the red row include San Francisco, Santa Clara, Napa, San Luis Obispo, Lassen, Modoc, and El Dorado.
Kindergarten teachers entering a California elementary school
Contrary to the media lockdown indicating that this move justifies reopening schools and businesses, this is an incredibly reckless move, especially given the proliferation of more contagious and deadly variants, including the now dominant CAL.20C variant. Despite these risks, numerous school districts have begun reopening elementary schools for personal instruction.
In San Francisco, the Democratic Mayor of London Breed announced on the county’s website that the red designation would allow middle and high schools to open. The Breed office cynically welcomed the fact that face-to-face instruction and services are being offered “to include youth with disabilities, foster children, English learners, children with homelessness and children from families with housing or food insecurity”.
Last week, the San Francisco Board of Education announced that it had reached an agreement with the United Educators San Francisco (UESF) union that will require schools to reopen when the city enters the lower levels. When the red level is reached, the schools will open as long as the teachers have been vaccinated. If the city enters the “orange tier” with 1-3.9 cases per 100,000 and a test positivity rate of 2-4.9 percent, educators will no longer need vaccinations.
Like the rest of the teachers’ unions, including the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the UESF has not objected to the reopening of schools, and the only partial demand is the vaccination of teachers. The threat to students, their families and the families of the educators has not been raised by any of the teachers’ unions as they act as mediators in meeting the demands of the financial elite.
In addition to opening schools, indoor restaurants, libraries, and other non-essential workplaces can reopen from 25 percent to 50 percent. Museums, zoos and aquariums are allowed to reopen with a capacity of 25 percent, while cinemas can be reopened with a capacity of 25 percent or 100 people, whichever is lower. Outdoor events such as sports and youth programs are also being expanded.
San Francisco has reported more than 34,000 cases and 422 deaths since the pandemic began. The city’s elite remain relatively low compared to the rest of the United States. The city’s tourism and local economy have suffered, and businesses have put additional pressure on the city to reopen.
On Tuesday, Mayor Breed announced at Pier 39, a popular tourist area in San Francisco, “I’m sure you’re tired of being locked in the house. And here’s an amazing opportunity to enjoy your city, come to Pier 39, have Irish coffee – St. Patrick’s Day is coming – at Cioppino to enjoy Scoma’s, some of the local shops that have always been were here, others from the places we all know and love. “
Just a few weeks ago, hospitals in Los Angeles and Riverside Counties in Southern California were zero percent. First aiders were allowed to declare patients dead at the scene because there was no more oxygen in hospitals.
These major epicentres of the pandemic are now trying to ease conventions and non-essential business restrictions as they near the red plain. Last week, LA County reported 7.2 new cases per day and 100,000 people, compared with 12.3 cases a week ago and 20 new cases a week ago. The fall rate in Orange County was recently put at 7.6, down from 11.9 last week and 20.7 the week before.
Working directly with California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom and district officials, the UTLA put teachers in Los Angeles on a catch-22 and let them vote on whether or not to accept the union’s safety plan, which is by nature is unsure. The plan includes reopening the school upon entry into the red tier, offering vaccinations for teachers, and vague language regarding personal protective equipment. If teachers vote yes, they are asked to accept these terms. If they vote no, the district may hurl them into dangerous classrooms upon entering the red row.
Just south of Los Angeles is Riverside County, the fourth largest county in California. Although Riverside is in the purple category with a current infection rate of 11.3 per 100,000, Riverside has announced the resumption of contact sports. Several counties in the county will resume in-person tuition for elementary school students later this month.
Riverside County’s Corona-Norco Unified School District resumed in-person tuition for students in transition kindergarten to sixth grade on Monday with a state-granted waiver based on lower infection rates. Other school districts are expected to follow. The Temecula Valley School District on Riverside is pushing the reopening on March 15th.
The two largest districts in San Diego County plan to expand and reopen once the county reaches red level status. The Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) plans to have 10 percent of students back on campus by April 12, starting with teachers volunteering in-person and virtual classes.
In addition, in a memorandum of understanding sent to educators on Wednesday, the district and the Sweetwater Education Association (SEA) agreed to return teachers and staff from ten school locations in the district on May 3 due to the distribution of the vaccine Sending classrooms was first made available for these teachers. The date for the rest of the staff has not yet been set. The San Diego Unified School District has reached a tentative agreement with the San Diego Education Association (SDEA) to extend the reopening on April 12th.
Despite advances in declining coronavirus-related numbers, health officials are warning that reopening early could lead to a deadly resurgence of the pandemic and its variants. Dr. Anthony Fauci recently told CNN’s State of the Union that the new COVID-19 variants discovered in California and New York were “worrying.” He warned of measures such as the recent lifting of indoor dining capacity restrictions in Massachusetts.
This was confirmed by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Rochelle Walensky, affirmed last week, said the two variants “appear to be spreading more easily and are contributing more to a large proportion of the current infections in those areas that give urgency to the situation. “
Fauci and other researchers said the spread of the native strains and variant B.1.1.7 “UK” could lead to a different strain that would elude the effects of the current vaccines. The CDC predicts that the British variety will be the dominant variety in the US by the end of March.
The easing of restrictions and the reopening of schools in California’s most restrictive plains will set the stage for another deadly upswing. The pandemic will only be stopped by closing schools and non-essential jobs, combined with swift vaccination of the population.
Only by uniting educators and other sections of the workforce, including healthcare and logistics workers, can a powerful movement be built to stop the deadly reopening of schools.
This Saturday, March 6th, at 2:00 pm PST, the simple West Coast Educational Safety Committees are holding a special event titled “Unite Workers to Keep West Coast Schools Out!” For all educators, parents, and other workers interested in fighting school reopening, sign up to attend this important gathering!
Join the Educators Safety Committee!
We are building a network of simple educators, students, parents and workers to stop the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.